Curmudgeons Corner

Random thoughts on politics, current events, popular culture, and whatever else interests me.

Mark R. Whittington is a writer residing in Houston, Texas. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel of suspense Nocturne which he coauthored with his wife, Chantal, The Children of Apollo trilogy, The Last Moonwalker and Other Stories, Gabriella’s War, The Man from Mars: The Asteroid Mining Caper, and Why is it So Hard to Go Back to the Moon?

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006
 
The Times of London offers another tiresome screed against human space flight. The logic seems to go like this: The shuttle did not performed as advertised and in fact killed two crews. Therefore all human space flight should be cancelled.

I seem to recall that the first attempt at building a jet airliner, done by a British firm by the way, turned out even more disasterously than the shuttle. Several of these early airliners crashed because of metal fatigue. Following the Times' logic, we should have abandoned all thought of jet air travel.

Of course, instead, Boeing came out with the 707 and the rest is history.



 
Mark Trulson has a chat with Gary Lantz of Rocketplane Limited. Lantz dares to speak a little heresy:
One interesting group of people that are very excited, are those that work for NASA. I had my own preconceived notions about NASA that were obviously founded on misinformation. NASA has unfairly received a lot of negative publicity and attacks lately, so I was surprised at their enthusiasm to support an alt.space company. Our leaders have worked very hard to develop a close positive relationship with NASA, and the results have been great. It’s nice being able to tap into the expertise of the NASA employees and see the enthusiasm in their responses. We’ve worked with them on such things as trajectory training, wind tunnel testing, space act agreements, rocket testing - the list is tremendous! In addition, we’ve had several agencies come by our offices to find out who we are; all of them left very impressed and eager to work with us!

Read the whole thing.


 
Looks like Serenity got snubbed at the Oscar nominations. While not unexpected, it is still a travesty.

Addendum: Of course, if normal people were making the nominations, Best Picture might be something like this:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Serenity, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, King Kong, and Walk the Line.


 
Two weeks to Neptune? Paul Czysc discusses.


Monday, January 30, 2006
 
Is it just me, or is it just a little bit suspicious when an academic study conducted by a pair of partisan Democrats concludes that Republicans tend to be more racist than other people?


 
A second season of Firefly? The business model this guy is proposing seems interesting, at least.
"We're looking at actually doing a direct pay-per- ... view model for this series, where the consumer could choose, if they wanted to, [to] view it on their computer, on their iPod, on direct-to-DVD sent to their house or on demand through their cable or satellite operator," Underhill said in a telephone interview. "That would be the first run of the series. And then the second run, obviously, you would go to the off-net cable channels. ... We're looking at giving choices to the audience.


 
Could NASA get people back to the Moon a year sooner?


 
Andy Turner discusses ways to deliver bulk cargos into low earth orbit cheaply and reliably.


 
It's a principle that is all but written in stone that some small, entrepeneurial company can do space far better that big, bureaucratic, unimaginative NASA or its usual big contractors. Eric Hedman, in an article that is sure to make a lot of people angry, suggests that some tough questions need to be asked of these companies to prove that what they propose to do can in fact be done.
Some of the ideas I’ve read about are from Transformational Space, SpaceDev, Kistler Aerospace, SpaceX, and Masten Space Systems. According to their web sites, they have projects in the works to launch small to large satellites, people on suborbital to orbital missions, or even on to the Moon using a variety of innovative technologies. Most of the more ambitious parts of the plans seem to be just in the early phase of design. If I was a NASA official considering using their services, or a venture capitalist considering investing in one of these companies, there are a series of tough questions I would want answered before investing or spending a penny.

One of the things that have really irked me about the alt.space crowd is the ratio of boasting to actual accomplishment. I'm a big booster of commercial space. But I also think that Hedman has performed a valuable service by proving a reality check. I hope he is not vilified too much for the presumption.

Addendum: Clark Lindsey and Jon Goff respond.


Sunday, January 29, 2006
 
Speaking of complaints, Michael Mealing weighs in with one of his and stumbles about very badly.
Back in the mid-90s when the Internet was 'growing up' the online world consisted services like Prodigy, Compuserve and AOL. It was around this time when Al Gore came out with his 'information superhighway' proposal. The 'information superhighway' was a completely new creation that had more in common with interactive TV than anything. But those of us involved with the Internet at the time simply chuckled a little and went right on doing what we loved simply because we liked doing it. In the end it ended up routing completely around OSI, interactive TV, Compuserve, Prodigy, and Al Gore's information superhighway.

Micheal of course forgets that the Internet started in the late sixties as a government project as a means of communication for DOD and NASA scientists. For Michael's analogy to be correct, we would have had to have rejected the idea of starting up a big government computer network and just allowed plucky entrepeneurs to grow it.

Also, Al Gore is a silly individual given to flights of fancy. What he was trying to do was to try to take credit for something that was already an accomplished fact by the time he started bloviating about the "information super highway."

The current administration is comprised of serious adults. They are very serious about what they propose.
And the same thing is about to happen with space. You don't stear the elephant, you just drive around him in your new car.

Actually, an elephant is absurdly easy to steer if you know how. Just read about how Scipio Africanus did it at the Battle of Zama. It's also not advisable to approach an elephant in a car; one might get stepped on.

Michael is right about one thing. ESAS may well evolve into something else the way the Arpanet did into the Internet. He just doesn't know it yet.


Saturday, January 28, 2006
 
Rand Simberg offers one of his periodic complaints about the space program while on the way missing the point and failing the offer any positive alternative.
It's twenty years today since Challenger was lost with all aboard. It was the first real blow to NASA's confidence in its ability to advance us in space, or that our space policy was sound. It finally shattered illusions about twenty-four flights a year, to which the agency had been clinging up until that event, but it wasn't severe enough to really make a major change in direction. That took the loss of Columbia, three years ago this coming Tuesday.

Good so far. Nothing new or insightful. Most people both in alt.space and NASA would agree.
Unfortunately, while that resulted finally in a policy decision to retire the ill-fated Shuttle program, the agency seems to have learned the wrong lessons from it--they should have come to realize that we need more diversity in space transport, and it cannot be a purely government endeavor. Instead, harkening back to their glory days of the sixties, the conclusion seems to be that, somehow (and inexplicably) the way to affordability and sustainability is exactly the approach that was unaffordable and unsustainable the last time we did it.

Several wrong things here. First, to read this, one would think that Rand has never heard of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services initiative. It is a tiresome tendancy of some internet rocketeers to not only be incapable of taking yes for an answer, but to actually display rank ingraditude.

Much of this paragraph refers to NASA's Vision for Space Exploration, which was initiated by President Bush two years ago. Rand makes a number of questionable assumptions. First, that "harkening to their glory days of the sixties" is utterly a bad thing. A case can be made that the worse public policy decision ever made in civil space was ending Apollo and trying to remake NASA into a high tech, space taxi service. Returning NASA to cutting edge exploration, research, and development and leaving the routine tasks of transportation to the private sector should be seen as a brilliant and overdue decision.

He also suggests that the VSE is as "unaffordable" as Apollo. He doesn't mention that we will be spending less than one percent of the federal budget for the foreseeable future. During Apollo spending was about four times that much. Most polling data indicates that the public is just fine with that. If anyone seems to be stuck in the sixties, deathly afraid that what happen then must inevitably happen now, it is Rand.
But one has to grant that Apollo was safe, and probably the new system will be more so than the Shuttle was. But safety shouldn't be the highest goal of the program. Opening frontiers has always been dangerous, and it's childish to think that this new one should be any different. The tragedy of Challenger and Columbia wasn't that we lost astronauts. The tragedy was that we lost them at such high cost, and for missions of such trivial value.

This part is true, but Rand goes on to draw totally wrong conclusions.
This is the other false lesson learned from Challenger (and Columbia)--that the American people won't accept the loss of astronauts. But we've shown throughout our history that we're willing to accept the loss of brave men and women (even in recent history) as long as it is in a worthy cause. But NASA's goal seems to be to create yet another appallingly expensive infrastructure whose focus is on recapitulating the achievements of four decades (five decades, by the time they eventually manage it, assuming they keep to their stated schedule) ago.

That's not the conclusion I see NASA making. The conclusion I see is that if we must loose astronauts, it should be on grander missions than going around in circles--like explorering the Moon and the planets.
Will the American people be inspired by that? I can't say--I only know that I am not.

Polling data suggests that Americans are very much in favor of VSE. That Rand is not is an illrelevant fact to evaluating the merits of the program.
Would they be inspired by a more ambitious program, a riskier program that involved many more people going into space at more affordable costs, even if (or perhaps because) it is a greater hazard to the lives of the explorers? I surely would. But it seems unlikely that we're going to get that from the current plan, or planners.

So what are Rand's suggestions along those lines? He has never said. I have my own ideas about how VSE can be improved, which includes more private sector participation, not only in moving people and material between the Earth and destinations in the Solar Systems, but in sustaining people once there. Mike Griffin, the clever and visionary NASA Administrator has already touched on that subject in a speech last November. And we've noticed recently the commercializtion of a promising interplanetary propulsion technology, VASIMR. But oddly enough we've heard nothing from Rand but complaints. No positive suggestions.

If one wishes to change policy, that is not the way to go about it.


 
Twenty years ago this date, the Challenger space shuttle became a funeral pyre for her crew on live television. It was a sight that would be aired over and over again that day in a kind of awful instant replay.

Besides ending seven brave lives, the Challenger Disaster would quickly end the notion that the space shuttle fleet would be the instrument for opening the high frontier of space. Because of a number of factors, including design compromises and the very absurdity of the notion of a government space line, it could never have done that. One of the good outcomes of the accident was that the space shuttle fleet would no longer carry commercial payloads. It's a bitter irony that perhaps one of the things the Challenger Seven gave their lives for is that the promise of a private launch industry might have a chance of being fulfilled.

There's an old story about the farmer who whacks his mule over the head with a two by four, not to get it to move but to get its attention. For the space program it took two whacks by that two by four, as it took the Columbia Disaster (anniversary upcoming) to finally convince the nation that a government space line was an untenable thing to sustain and, if there is a purpose for NASA, it lays in the higher purpose of cutting edge exploration and research, not going around in circles. If people must die in space (and they must, for the Price of Admiralty is the same on the airless sea as it is on the Earthly one), then let it be for pushing back frontiers.


Friday, January 27, 2006
 
Alan Boyle's readers have come up with a myriad of names for the CEV family of vehicles, including the original idea of just calling it "Apollo."


 
Skiing on the Moon, with a nod to Fred Kiesche, who is mentioned at the end of the piece.


 
Happy 250th Birthday Mozart. Michelle Malkin has more.


 
This Yale Study suggesting metal shortages on Earth suggests a market for lunar and asteroid mining.


Thursday, January 26, 2006
 
Algore thinks that the results of the Canadian election are the result of a neferious plot by Big Oil. Jason Verheyden is unimpressed. As are we all.


 
Jim Oberg offers Seven Myths about the Challenger disaster.


 
More evidence that Saddam's WMDs were carried off and hidden somewhere in Syria.


 
The good news is that the Palestinians have embraced democracy with a will. The bad news is that they just elected a Hamas government, thus proving what many have suggested all along about their lack of seriousness concerning peace with Israel.


 
The Russians are the latest to notice that the Moon could be the Persian Gulf of this century because of Helium 3. Whether they could pull it off on their own is open to question.

In any case, it would be interesting if some official in the United States might publicly notice this potential.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006
 
Michelle Malkin suggests ways to ignore the odious Joel Stein and support the troops anyway.


 
Stardust: Space Craft Bringing Pieces of the Universe to the Earth.


 
I always thought that the inevitable march of Hillary Clinton to the Oval Office was not as inevitable as some people think. Here is proof.


 
How odd.

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!



You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.


Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.



Tuesday, January 24, 2006
 
Looks like Google is collaborating with the government of Communist China to censor the Internet. For shame.


 
Alan Boyle reports that NASA may be on the verge of giving the various space craft that will go to the Moon proper names.
Under this scheme, the Crew Launch Vehicle, or CLV rocket, would be named after the Greek god of war, Ares. The two-stage rocket that has been nicknamed the "single stick" or the "shaft" would be the Ares 1. The in-line heavy-lift version, suitable for trips to the moon or Mars, would be the Ares 5 — echoing the name that was given to the heavy-lifter in the Mars Direct scheme for missions to the Red Planet.

The Crew Exploration Vehicle, or CEV capsule, would take on the name Antares — the "rival to Mars" — with each mission getting a number, just as Apollo missions did. The Lunar Surface Access Module, or LSAM moon lander, would be called Artemis, after the Greek goddess of the moon (and the twin sister of Apollo).

I rather like them, but I will take up Alan's challenge for some alternatives.


 
Looks like VASIMR, NASA's high thrust plasma rocket, is going commercial. To my mind, this could be a remarkable development. Commercial space has hitherto concentrated on space launch systems, i.e. Earth surface to low Earth orbit. This development may help pave the way to commercial transportation to the Moon and beyond.

Addendum: More.


 
A new way to go to the Moon.


Monday, January 23, 2006
 
Kinderguard: Keeping Your Child Safe.


 
Both Homer Hickam and Chuck Yeager seem to like Mike Mullane's shuttle astronaut memoirs:


 
Chris Gainor argues the science reasons for going back to the Moon.


 
Condi Rice can be Hillary Clinton's worse nightmare. If she chooses to be.


Sunday, January 22, 2006
 
Michelle Malkin comments further on the plight of Haleigh Poutre, the brave little girl who refuses to die despite the inconvenience that causes to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, among others.


 
Metal Storm is one of the high tech weapons the Hillary Clinton battle group takes back in time to 1942 in John Birmingham's splendid Axis of Time series. It looks like it's an actual weapon in development.


 
Looks like the Chinese are building their own Tokamak.


 
Looks like the "Left Wing" is finally going away. Now I wonder where liberals will get their fix of a pretend liberal White House as a balm against the real conservative one? Commander in Chief? I understand the ratings for that show have taken a death spiral as well.


Friday, January 20, 2006
 
Jerusalem of Gold.


 
Looks like the good people of Canada are about to elect a Conservative government, and Michael Moore can't stand it.


 
Twenty five years ago today, Ronald Reagan the Great ascended to the Presidency, bringing to a close both the Iranian hostage crisis and the Carter era of malaise. Then he proceeded to save the United States by bringing about economic growth through tax cuts and then saved the world by ending the Soviet Empire.


 
Just as I thought, the business of redesigning the CEV/CLV system is not as serious as some would have us believe.


 
Day of Decision: The Battle of Yarmuk.


 
Peter Suderman appreciates the best SF show on television, Battlestar Galactica.


Thursday, January 19, 2006
 
Is Haleigh Poutre this years Terri Schiavo? Could be, though we know for sure who put her into a coma. But let's see if the state has the stones to starve a child to death.


 
Forbes has disovered the new space race between commercial businesses.


 
New Horizons has launched successfully.


 
I wonder how one says "reckless, unilateralist cowboy" in French?


 
Some problems seem to have arisen over the design of the Crewed Launch Vehicle. It seems that making the SSME cheap and air startable may be a little more challenging than at first thought. There is naturally some discussion of this here and here.

The solution that NASA seems to be looking at is to make the SRB stage five segment instead of four, shortening the second stage, and using a modern version of the J2, which is one of the engines that was used on the Saturn V, rather than the SSME. The solution the blogosphere seems to favor is scrapping the idea of a shuttle derived vehicle and man rating an EELV (Delta IV or Atlas V), which NASA claims is difficult and expensive. Of course if trying to make the shuttle derived CLV turns out to be also difficult and expensive...

Addendum: Jon Goff jumps in. However, I'm beginning to wonder, considering the vaugeness of the original story, how much of a problem is there. A lot of opponents of NASA's return to the Moon plan may be making assumptions (oh, that word!) This may be the end of the CLV or just the ordinary teething problems all rocket development programs go through. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006
 
This company is developing technology to grow genetically enhanced crops underground, in caves or mine shafts for instance. The idea is that this method contains this crops and avoids contaminating other plants with the enhanced genetic material.

Of course, applications for future space colonies are obvious.


 
I guess the idea of mining the Moon and asteroids is no longer considered too silly, now that it is being discussed seriously in Forbes.


 
Tom Clancy's Without Remorse may at last become a movie. This is the one in which Clancy's special ops charecter, Mr. Clark, makes special use of a decompression chamber.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006
 
While certain parts of the blogosphere are sour on NASA, it remains a popular government agency for the public at large.


 
Happy 300th birthday, Ben Franklin.


 
Hillary Clinton said that the GOP controlled Congress is a plantation, which I suppose means that the Congressional Democrats are slaves. Captain Ed has a droll suggestion of what to do about it.

Of course, the thought of Teddy Kennedy leaping from ice floe to ice floe in his bid to escape is an image too precious to imagine.


Monday, January 16, 2006
 
Day of Decision: The Siege of Alesia.


 
Frank Sietzen relates part one of his account of how the Crewed Exploration Vehicle came to be.


 
There seems to be a degree of angst in the space community over Rep. John Shadegg's entry into the race to replace Tom Delay as House Majority Leader. The reason is that Shadegg is head of a group of fiscally conservative Republicans called the House Republican Study Committee. The Study Committee proposed, among other things, cancelling the Vision for Space Exploration to help pay for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

On the other hand, the proposal was controversial even among the members of the Study Committee and did not make it into the final spending cut bill that passed the House last month. Also, Shadegg proposes to end the pernicious practice of earmarks, where individual Congressmen tuck in pork barrel spending projects into appropriations bills. Hunbdreds of millions of NASA funding gets siphoned off every year due to this practice. I don't know how Shadegg personally feels about the VSE, but it seems to me that ending earmarks would, among other things, be a net plus for publically funded space exploration.


 
Sam Dinkin has an interesting proposal.
The Outer Space Treaty makes the US liable for damages caused by US spacecraft and citizens to other signatory's people and stuff whereever they are. That includes outer space and the rest of the planets. These areas too should be considered and governed for every US citizen and corporation that wants a US flagged spacecraft. There are excellent opportunities for US (mobile home) colonies in unoccupied territory. It's time to appoint someone whose job it is to make that happen. A new position should be created: the Governor of Outer Space Territory.

In Ancient Rome, such a person was called a Proconsul.


 
A visit to the set of 300, an epic about the Battle of Thermopylae.


 
Mark Trulson concludes his converstion with David Livingston of The Space Show.


 
Dwayne Day argues that ending human space flight in America is politically impossible. While one can hope that is the case, there is one flaw in his position. Those who would argue for ending publically funded space flight would have the excuse that the private sector will soon be operating space craft. That was not the case in 1970 when the last three Apollo flights were cancelled and funding for the space shuttle came within one vote of being terminated in the House. Ending human space fight was a nearer run thing thirty six years ago than Day imagines. If your argument for human space flight is mere prestige, it doesn't matter if NASA or Virgin Galactic is flying people in space.

On the other hand, there seems to be bipartisan consensus in support of the Vision for Space Exploration, if for nothing else it seems to be the only game in town. A Chinese lunar program, far from being a claim "poorly argued", will sooner or later become more apparent even to those folks who deny it. If NASA is smarter in the way it does public relations, some of the economic justifications for returning to the Moon will also become more recognized. That is especially true if it brings in more commercial participation than it has hitherto.

Addendum: A little known political aspect of space flight during the Nixon years.

Addendum 2: Dwayne Day reminds me that he used the word "unlikely" rather than "impossible" to describe the prospect of ending human space flight.


 
Eric Hedman discusses Helium 3 fusion, among other things, with Dr. Gerald Kulcinski who is, in a very promising move, appointed to the NASA Advisory Council.


Sunday, January 15, 2006
 
George Will muses about the sudden desire of the Congress to CYA--er--reform itself.
Those are people who believe that, given good intentions and institutional cleverness, an era of civic virtue will dawn. They are mistaken, but there are some reforms that, although they will not guarantee virtue, will complicate vice, which is as much progress as is possible in this naughty world.


 
The Stardust sample return mission has returned it's sample capsule safely to the deserts of Utah.


Friday, January 13, 2006
 
VASIMR: A Plasma Rocket.


 
I call upon Zell Miller to challenge Zhirinovsky to a duel. The drunken Russian's besmirchment of an American woman must not go unchallenged.


 
Must of you all will remember the politics of cows. Neal Boortz has an updated list:

DEMOCRATIC

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful.
Barbra Streisand sings for you.

REPUBLICAN

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
So?

SOCIALIST

You have two cows.
The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
You form a cooperative to tell him how to manage his cow.

COMMUNIST

You have two cows.
The government seizes both and provides you with milk.
You wait in line for hours to get it.
It is expensive and sour.

CAPITALISM, AMERICAN STYLE

You have two cows.
You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.

BUREAUCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE

You have two cows.
Under the new farm program the government pays you to shoot one, milk the other, and then pours the milk down the drain.

AMERICAN CORPORATION

You have two cows.
You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do an IPO on the 2nd one.
You force the two cows to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when one cow drops dead. You spin an announcement to the analysts stating you have downsized and are reducing expenses.
Your stock goes up.

FRENCH CORPORATION

You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.
You go to lunch and drink wine.
Life is good.

JAPANESE CORPORATION

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded trains.
Most are at the top of their class at cow school.

GERMAN CORPORATION

You have two cows.
You engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour.
Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

ITALIAN CORPORATION

You have two cows but you don't know where they are.
While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman.
You break for lunch.
Life is good.

RUSSIAN CORPORATION

You have two cows.
You have some vodka.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You have some more vodka.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

TALIBAN CORPORATION

You have all the cows in Afghanistan, which are two.
You don't milk them because you cannot touch any creature's private parts.
You get a $40 million grant from the US government to find alternatives to milk production but use the money to buy weapons.

IRAQI CORPORATION

You have two cows.
They go into hiding.
They send audio tapes of their mooing.

POLISH CORPORATION

You have two bulls.
Employees are regularly maimed and killed attempting to milk them.

BELGIAN CORPORATION

You have one cow.
The cow is schizophrenic.
Sometimes the cow thinks he's French, other times he's Flemish.
The Flemish cow won't share with the French cow.
The French cow wants control of the Flemish cow's milk.
The cow asks permission to be cut in half.
The cow dies happy.

FLORIDA CORPORATION

You have a black cow and a brown cow.
Everyone votes for the best looking one.
Some of the people who actually like the brown one best accidentally vote for the black one.
Some people vote for both.
Some people vote for neither.
Some people can't figure out how to vote at all.
Finally, a bunch of guys from out-of-state tell you which one you think is the best-looking cow.

CALIFORNIA CORPORATION

You have millions of cows.
They make real California cheese.
Only five speak English.
Most are illegal.
Arnold likes the ones with the big udders.


Dan Schrimpsher has a couple of very droll additions.
NASA
You have one cow.
The cow just runs around in circles in the field.
You miss your old cow.
You can't rely on any other farmers (because farming is just too hard)
You retire your cow, dig up your old cows bones and wrap it in new leather.

Alt Space
You have fifty cow designs
Any one of your cows would put out 50 times the milk of government cows
If only you had money...

Alas, there is much truth there.


 
NASA has decided to drop the requirement for a methane/LOX rocket engine for the CEV service module and the LSAM ascent module. Already some of the usual suspects, who didn't like NASA's approach to going back to the Moon to start with, now really don't.

The reason seems to be less saving on development costs (while hiking operating cost) than avoiding the pitfalls of trying to develop a new technology on a deadline.
'Focusing on the Lunar section of the ESAS takes away potential pitfalls/delays of new engine development for methane related design and engineering. 'Let's get the Moon in the bag first and foremost,' then we'll evaluate propulsion and surrounding architecture (for Mars).'

Of course it can be pointed out that a methane burner doesn't really buy one anything for in situ refueling on the Moon. For that, a hydrogen/LOX burner would be the way to go. But, as point out by Clark Lindsey, this presents another set of problems.
While hydrogen may eventually be produced from water on the Moon, it involves serious storage challenges. Furthermore, one may not want to sacrifice limited water supplies for fuel. LH2/LOX offers higher impulse than methane/LOX but the low density LH2 requires bigger, heavier tanks. "It takes 13 times as much tank mass to hold a pound of hydrogen than it takes to hold a pound of oxygen. For multiple-use vehicles operating at the end of a long logistics chain, the extra empty vehicle mass needed to hold hydrogen must be traded against the lower Isp but lighter LOX/methane vehicles.

Of course, hydrogen can also be extracted from lunar soil, which has another set of challenges.

If NASA feels that building a methane/LOX engine is too risky for the ESAS, there is a solution. Make such an engine one of the Centennial Challenges. Critics of the Vision for Space Exploration will be less unhappy because that would be another piece of technology developed by non traditional means. NASA will benefit because it gets the engine for the CEV and Mars Lander relatively cheaply.


 
The Europeans have made a breakthrough in ion engine design.


Thursday, January 12, 2006
 
It had been my impression that Roy Cohn had died a lingering, horrible death of AIDS back in the 1980s. Well, it seems at least his spirit is possessing the Senate Judiciary Democrats.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006
 
The story of the 1966 Texas Western Miners basketball team is an inspiring example of how excellence and a desire to win overcame racial bigotry. Naturally Hollywood had to change the story to fit political correctness.


 
Despite political opposition, it looks like bioengineered crops are gaining more acceptance. That doesn't mean that opposition has gone away.
Yet anti-biotech activists and other observers still complain that the industry isn't helping alleviate world hunger as it has long promised. None of the commercially available genetically engineered crops last year were nutritionally enhanced. Much of the output is for animal feed.

Of course, it's rather difficult to use bioengineered food to alleviate world hunger when political activists campaign to block their use in the Third World.


 
If this is to be the shape of the 2007 NASA budget request, I must confess to a little bit of puzzlement as to what the administration is thinking. If it is the policy to "finish" (whatever that means) the space station, then it needs paying for. Otherwise, I would recommend cutting the gordian knot and retiring the orbital fleet, possibly after a Hubble repair mission. Then I would suggest figuring out a way to "finish" ISS using expendables and commercial space tugs. The savings could be channeled into advancing the VSE and expanding the Centennial Challenges program.


 
The next attempt to launch Falcon 1 will be on February 8.


 
Beam weapons will shortly revolutionize the art of war.


Tuesday, January 10, 2006
 
Selenian Boondocks provides a response on Bonin's anti heavy lift article. Then Your Humble Servant gets both attacked and agreed with in one of the comments by someone named "Anonymous." Go figure.


 
Gettysburg by Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen.


 
The 17th Carnival of Tomorrow is up.


 
Looks like there is hope for a Serenity sequel after all, based of course on DVD sales.

Speaking of Serenity, by the way, there's going to be a graphic novel that links the movie with the TV series.


Monday, January 09, 2006
 
Is Osama bin Laden finally burning in Hell? Michael Ledeen thinks so.


 
Mark Trulson interviews David Livingston, a true treasure of the space movement, not the least for his creation of The Space Show, upon which Your Humble Servant has appeared from time to time.

My end of the year appearance was very enjoyable.


 
Cheap Access to Space, courtesy of the United States Marines? Taylor Dinerman thinks it may be so.


 
Grant Bonin concludes his polemic against heavy lift and his case is, alas, unpersuasive. As to why it is, just count the number of times he uses the words "assume" or "assumption" in his piece. Economic analysis based on back of the envelope calculations based on assumptions tend to fall down on close examination.

For a somewhat more rigorous cost justification for ESAS, based on some rather sophesticated cost modeling systems used by both NASA and the Air Force, download the PDF file on Costs.


Saturday, January 07, 2006
 
I remember the Goldwater Administration with great fondness, when we abolished Social Security, nuked Hanoi, and annexed the Moon. Teddy Kennedy seems to as well.


Friday, January 06, 2006
 
Hypatia of Alexandria.


 
Mona Charen calls Spielberg's Munich disturbingly dishonest.


Thursday, January 05, 2006
 
Warp drive in our lifetimes? I'll believe it when I see it, but would it not be remarkable?

Addendum: Justin Feng points to a disussion and a post on The Star Spangled Cosmos on this very subject.

Addendum 2: The New Scientist has more.

Addendum 3: Clark Lindsey thinks that, if nothing else, technological hurtles place warp drive far in the future.


 
Visiting Bergen: Gateway to the Fjords.


 
The day when nano devices can interface with human cells draws closer.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006
 
Jonah Goldberg is the latest to give the back of his hand to Spielberg's Munich.


 
Apparently some media outlets reported that the delegation from Narnia has walked out of the WTO talks in Hong Kong, out of protest of American and European pressure.

No comment from spokesmen for Gondor, Oz, or Grand Fenwick.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006
 
The High Crusade by Poul Anderson.


 
When Jack Abramoff decided to cop a plea, the usual suspects all cried out, "Ah ha! At last we'll get Tom Delay." Well, maybe not. Maybe the person with the most to worry about is none other than Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.


 
Grant Bonin makes a case against heavy lift launchers. He makes, in my opinion, some questionable assumptions, but the piece is worth a read nevertheless.


Monday, January 02, 2006
 
The Outpost Tavern: An Astronaut Hangout.


 
When we or the Israelis get around to destroying Iran's nuclear bomb program, could we not spare a bomb or a missile for this bozo? He seems far too insane to live.